Key points to remember:
The disappearance of LinkedIn China should not be linked to Beijing’s media censorship alone.
The WeChat and Maimai social platforms simply have superior functionality and more engaging content.
Those who speak out against Chinese censorship practices should not condone the suppression of speech in the United States.
A recent blog post – signed by Mohak Shroff, senior vice president and head of engineering at LinkedIn – announced that LinkedIn was pursuing an alternative path in China. According to Shroff, LinkedIn’s latest focus will focus on “helping China-based professionals find jobs in China and Chinese companies find quality candidates,” via InJobs, a new independent job search app that company designed for the Chinese market. However, LinkedIn will shut down its social feed, eliminating content sharing in the country.
Shroff’s post highlights how LinkedIn “has been successful in helping Chinese members find jobs and economic opportunities” but has not made the same progress “in the more social aspects of information sharing and retention.” In addition, the company cited “a significantly more difficult operating environment and stricter compliance requirements in China.”
While LinkedIn’s desire to scale back its Chinese operations has baffled some Western commentators, this move is hardly surprising considering how the career networking platform suspended new user registrations in March. Recent scandals involving the blocking of “forbidden information” and subsequent government pressure contributed to the demolition of the company.
But LinkedIn’s demise shouldn’t be related only to Beijing’s media censorship or China’s grip on social media. Indeed, Rui Ma, founder of Buzz Tech China, mentions how “years of low value-added growth” in China and heightened surveillance in the United States have helped to bring down the social media titan.
“The fundamental problem is that LinkedIn has never been successful in gaining a foothold in China despite the willingness of Derek Shen (the first president of LinkedIn China) to locate the product and learn from the stumbles of his peers,” says Ma. “Although its number has grown steadily – from 4 million when it took over to around 50 million now – it is not widely used in China except by those with a connection overseas.”
From Ma’s perspective, LinkedIn’s audience in China mainly included overseas employees, returnees, and EMN workers. Additionally, Chinese white-collar workers do not use the platform to “nurture their network or display their accomplishments,” as WeChat and Maimai have superior functionality and more engaging content.
It’s too easy to blame Beijing for everything and downplay how, even in the United States, politicians want to tighten the reins on social media and censor political content.
“China’s censorship regulations are undermining the way free and open Internet businesses like to operate and grow their businesses,” says eMarketer. AP News shares a similar view, concluding that “foreign social media platforms in China have long faced challenges balancing the ability of users to post whatever they want with government rules requiring censorship of content deemed unacceptable to for political or other reasons ”.
The Western media rightly points out how censorship of free speech harms the health of businesses and negatively affects businesses and society. However, some of China’s most powerful accusers have encouraged political censorship in the United States, and some famous thinkers are even calling for Chinese-style social media censorship. Additionally, prominent state lawmakers and politicians have called for lawsuits for social media “censorship” and removal of content the government dislikes. Apparently, the content that US lawmakers see as “problematic” is limitless, touching on “fake news”, posts by COVID-19 vaccine deniers and political advertisements.
Like Douglas Blair, administrative assistant for communications at La Fondation Héritage and collaborator of The daily signal, rightly underlines, in America, “it is not illegal to question vaccines, nor to criticize your political opposition”. And “yet, if some Congressional Democrats were to do what they wanted, the tech giants would be forced to remove that content or face government-imposed consequences.”
In short, those who speak out against China’s censorship practices should not turn a blind eye to the suppression of words and ideas in the United States.
As for LinkedIn followers who hail the social media platform as a hero refusing to comply with Chinese laws, they seem to downplay the company’s mistakes and miscalculations in the Middle Kingdom. Despite the global outcry, Western social media platforms are having no more trouble in China than in the United States. The challenges, prejudices, and even the odds of success are roughly similar. But some refuse to acknowledge it because blaming China for everything distracts attention from the upcoming recession and the failures of the US government.